Studying the blank sheet of holiday paper and the pre-labeled
envelope addressed to Lance Corporal Matthew L. Jopey,
Celondra tried to picture the addressee. She closed her eyes and
envisioned that fine broad-shouldered brother featured on all the
Marines posters. Or maybe he looked like Tom Cruise in A Few
Good Men. Nah, not likely. Everyone knows that mostly poor
people of color get sent to foreign countries to kill other poor
people of color. Although he could be some naïve reservist
from the suburbs who thought it might be fun to play
soldier on the weekends. There were a lot of those in Iraq
right now, fighting alongside the optimistic short-term soldiers
who needed money for college and never in their wildest dreams
believed we'd be fighting another war in this day and age. Back
when they must have signed up, there were no obvious signs that
President Bush would turn out to be quite the raging warmonger he
is, even though his daddy left some unfinished business back in
the Gulf. Going back there just didn't make sense. If you ask me,
it still doesn't, but that's a whole other Oprah.
Celondra decided to think of Lance Corporal Jopey as African-American, with warm honey-brown eyes and soft cherry-wood skin,
solid boulder shoulders and a flat, wide waist. His legs would be
solid like tree trunks, only slightly sculpted. Would he be bald,
with a smooth delicious scalp? Maybe he'd have short curls that
frame his strong cheekbones ... Celondra, what are you thinking?!
This is a holiday letter to soldiers laying their lives on the
line in Iraq, for godsakes! It's for charity, not some sort of
twisted dating service! Now get your mind out of your panties and
think of something encouraging to write.
Dear Lance Corporal Jopey,
Well, maybe I should write Dear Matthew. This is a
Christmas letter after all, not a business letter. Wait, what if
he doesn't even celebrate Christmas? What if he's Jewish or
Muslim or Buddhist or something? Oh heck.
Okay, good start ....
Happy Holidays! I'm really sorry you have to spend your holidays
in that godforsaken desert of death because the people back home
were stupid enough to elect – and then re-elect! –
such a war-loving idiot.
Hold up! That is not what this man wants to hear! He wants to
feel like his sacrifice is for some purpose. Who wants to believe
that they might die tomorrow, and that they killed 10 people
yesterday, for no good reason? Now, come on, Celondra, get your
I'm really sorry you have to spend your
holidays in that godforsaken desert of death because the people
back home were stupid enough to elect – and then re-elect!
– such a war-loving idiot. Thank you for putting
your life on the line for freedom, even if it is all based on
Now Celondra, behave. But how am I supposed to write this damn
letter? I didn't know what to say back in '92 and I still can't
summon up the right words. Celondra clicked her tongue and
refilled her wine glass. She noticed a chip in her burgundy nail
polish and shook her head. Chip-resistant. It didn't resist very
long, did it? Well, at least now she had an excuse to get a
mani/pedi. She called Tracy.
"Hey girl. It's me. Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine. Damn charity
letter's wiggin' me a little, but it's cool. Listen, I just
noticed a chip on my nail. Yeah, yeah, that new chip-resistant polish we picked up at the beauty supply.
Yeah, I know. But I've got better things to do with my life than
write complaint letters. Listen, whatchou up to tonight? What
time you gotta be there? Got time for a mani/pedi at Karen's?
Cool. I'll let her know we'll be there in 10. Oh, okay, 20. See
Celondra wrapped her long sculpted arms around Karen, who
immediately began reciting the latest list of her nephews who
might turn out to be Celondra's soulmate if she'd just give 'em
half the chance.
"Been there, done that, girl." Celondra smiled wryly.
"Nah. They was just a warm-up. You have got to meet my sister
Jill's third boy Eugene. Mmm, mmm, he's a sweet one. If he
weren't my nephew, I'd take a lick myself."
Celondra smirked. "You ain't never gonna give up on matchmaking
me, are you?"
Karen's smile stretched into a wide white canoe. "No, ma'am, I
ain't. Listen, girl, you have got to move on from Jonah. And
there ain't nothin' like a juicy new man to do just that."
"Has Jonah asked about me?" Celondra asked hopefully.
Karen just shook her head, arms crossed, tsking. "For such a
smart girl ...."
"Hi, girls!" Tracy burst into the shop, arms open for hugs.
"Hey, girl. Have you lost weight? You're lookin' good!" Celondra
eyed her best friend.
"Nah, I put on ten pounds. But I think everything's
blending together a little better now. Anyway, I ain't gettin' no
complaints from the boys, so why starve myself?"
Karen shook her head. "You just take care you don't catch
yourself none of that Diabetes, girl."
Tracy rolled her eyes.
Celondra and Tracy selected their colors and settled into the
"So what's this business about a charity letter?" Tracy asked,
flipping through a month-old copy of a gossip mag.
"Oh, the whole Accounting Department volunteered to write a bunch
of letters to the soldiers in Iraq – you know, so they
won't be so lonely during Christmastime."
"That's cool," Tracy commented absently.
"Yeah, but it's bringin' back some bad memories. Ouch! Karen,
watch it with those cuticle trimmers, will ya?"
"Sorry baby. Must've gotten distracted for a moment there." Karen
shook her head and tsked.
"Bad memories? Nah, you can't be talkin' 'bout Jonah now. That
was years ago! Girl, you gotta get over him! Come on out
to the club with me tonight. We'll get you somebody who will wash
those memories away with some sweet brown lovin'."
"That's what I'm sayin'!" Karen chimed in.
"You two. Are you sharin' a brain or somethin'? I do not need a
man bringin' me down right now. I just got my career on track."
"Who says the man's gonna bring you down?" Tracy wanted to know.
"Experience." Celondra crossed her arms and accidentally smudged
her fingernail polish.
"Be careful, girl!" Karen chided, dropping Celondra's foot to
redo the polish on her hand.
"Experience? Hmph! Your experience consists of exactly one man,
and that relationship was over a decade ago. Move on!" Tracy
shook her head impatiently.
"I've dated since then," Celondra insisted.
"Yeah, you've gone through the motions anyway." Tracy sniffed.
"Alright, fine. You girls are obviously sick of hearing about my
problems, so I'll just go home." Celondra pulled her feet out of
the water and unzipped her purse, messing up her nailpolish again
as she looked for her wallet.
"Celondra, don't be like that. You know I'm always gonna be here
for you – even if you are obsessed."
Angry, Celondra turned to face her best friend since the third
Grade. Tracy's smile was so bright and sincere that Celondra
couldn't resist softening her heart just a little. Anyway, she
needed her guidance right now. "I'm sorry." She cried into her
hands, ruining her mascara and getting wet nail polish in the
hair above her forehead.
Soon, she was surrounded by big caring bosoms, eased into a chair
and given some hot tea. Tracy dabbed her eyes as Karen murmured
some inaudible comforting noises and removed the mangled nail
polish with a soft cotton ball. Celondra felt better but didn't
feel like talking anymore. After her girls fixed her up, she
said, "Tracy, did you mean it about me going to club with you
"Damn straight, girlfriend, and I've got the perfect dress for
you, too. Bought it last weekend. It's a little too small for me,
so it should fit you perfect."
Several hours later, Tracy and Celondra made their entrance.
Tracy looked sexy in a low-cut green body-hugging dress.
Celondra's simple short-sleeved hot pink dress with a cinched
waist and flared skirt was a little conservative but still
appropriate for a club. Men approached them right away. Celondra
danced a little but then nestled into an intimate red leather
booth in the corner with their purses. The music was good and the
men treated her respectfully enough, but she hadn't been to a
club in years and needed to catch her breath.
Celondra sipped a refreshing pi¤a colada and grinned at the sight
of Tracy jiggling her stuff between two hunks of handsome. She
watched them and tapped her pointer finger to the beat for a bit
until she realized they weren't even glancing in her direction
and felt suddenly, conspicuously alone. To stave off idle self-consciousness, Celondra dug around inside her purse for a pocket
mirror. She checked her smudge-free eyes and fresh-looking lips
with a tinge of disappointment and snapped the mirror shut to
find a slightly unfamiliar face standing directly above her.
"J-J-Jonah?" That dripping honey smile. Those hard apple cheeks.
That wide muscular chest. Although, he was a little heavier than
she remembered, and she spotted a quarter-size shiny spot behind
his hairline, which she tried not to greet with a bald-faced
"I thought that was you," Jonah commented and slid in right next
to her at the booth without asking for permission. He patted her
soft, somewhat jiggly thigh. "You look good." He fiddled with a
red cocktail straw that'd been left on the table by whoever sat
there before her.
"Uh ... thanks, Jonah." She pressed her thighs together to
accentuate the muscles and sucked in her paunch. "You look good,
too." She cleared her throat. She could not believe she was
actually gazing into those generous brown eyes again, that this
wasn't just another one of her wild reminiscing dreams. Demurely
pouting her lips, Celondra sipped her pi¤a colada and nervously
dribbled some down the front of Tracy's pretty loaner dress. She
"Still the same old Celondra, I see." Without thinking, Jonah
dabbed at the dress, and a drop on her cleavage, with a cocktail
napkin. He glanced at his former lover's astonished face. "Oh
geez! I'm sorry." He dropped the napkin like a hot potato.
"What in the world are you doin', Jonah?" Frowning, she adjusted
the front of the now-smudged dress to conceal her cleavage.
"I don't know what got into me. We were just sitting here, and it
was feelin' like old times, and I guess I just sort of ...
flashed back or something. But I had no right. I'm sorry." He
shook his head, mystified. "I really am."
Celondra frowned and crossed her arms, glancing toward Tracy on
the dance floor. Tracy was slow-dancing with a dark-skinned bald
guy who was built like a boulder and completely obstructed
Tracy's face. Then her eyes returned to Jonah. Jonah ... sigh.
"You can't just be touching me like that. We're not together
anymore," she reminded him, but her tone was soft.
"I know. You're absolutely right. I don't know what to say. Like
I said, I don't know what got into me." He stared at the table.
"If you ask me to leave, I'll understand."
"Nah, it's alright." She smirked quietly and stared at the sheen
on her nails.
"Wanna get out of here? It's too noisy to catch up on old times."
She gazed at his earnest face for a long moment, considering.
Right when the corners of his lips dropped slightly, she said,
"Uh, yeah. Su- sure. Let me just say goodbye to Tracy." Unable to
take her eyes off of him, she tapped around near the chair leg
for her purse.
"Tracy's here, too?" He glanced toward the dance floor. "Blast
from the past." He shook his head in disbelief.
Tracy happened to look over right then and stormed over to
Celondra. "Can I have a word with you for a minute?" she said
through gritted teeth. She yanked Celondra away by the arm.
"Ow!" Celondra wriggled out of the vice grip and rubbed her arm.
"I think you bruised me."
"What the hell is he doing here? Did you arrange to meet him
here?" Tracy crossed her arms.
"No! Of course not! Think about it, Trace. I
didn't even know I was coming here tonight until you dragged me
Hand on hip, Tracy thought for a moment. "Well, that's true ...
but what the hell's he doing here?"
"I don't know, but it looks like I'm about to find out." Celondra
grinned, a glint in her eyes.
"Oh, no." Tracy shook her head. "No, no, no, Celondra. You are
not leaving with him. We came here to help you get over him, not
to hook you back up! What are you, some kinda crazy masochist?
You know he's just gonna hurt you all over again."
"I'm the one who hurt him, if you remember. And now's my chance
to make it right."
"Come on. Don't do this," Tracy pleaded with her eyes.
Celondra touched her arm gently. "I'll get a ride home with
Jonah. I'll call you tomorrow."
At first, they drove aimlessly.
"We could go to the park. Empire Park looks out over the lake."
"Nah, it's too cold to sit in the car, let alone sit on a bench
out there," Celondra shivered. "Plus, too many teenagers makin'
out. How about Lucy's Diner?"
"Too bright," he squinted. "How about Drake's Lounge?"
"Too crowded and loud. May as well have stayed where we were."
She stared out the window for a long while. She took a deep
breath. "We can go to my place, if you promise to keep your
"I'll promise you this. I won't do anything you don't absolutely
want me to do."
She checked him. His innocent eyes focused on the road.
She smirked. "Yeah, alright. Remember how to get there?"
He rolled his eyes.
"It's a mess."
In front of a crackling fire – which she over-assured him
was just to ward off the chill of the night – they sat on
opposite sides of her couch, wineglasses in hand.
"Remember the last time we saw each other?" he smirked fondly.
"How could I forget?" she grinned. "Your mom..." She shook her
head, recalling how his mom showed up announced right when they
were about to share their last love session before he shipped off
for Basic Training. "How's she doin', anyway?"
"Good, good. Seems a lot older all the sudden, but she's fine. A
few aches and pains, but no major complaints. And your parents?"
"Fine, fine." Celondra wrapped herself in an afghan. "You know my
parents. They never change. Still bickering with love in their
"Yeah," he recalled fondly. "I really hoped we'd end up like them
in the end – well, maybe with less bickering!"
They shared a chuckle.
"Geez, what happened to us?" he asked rhetorically. "We seemed so
perfect then, so much in common, same goals and hopes and
"Yeah, and then Bush Senior sent you into that hellhole of a
desert." The words tasted bitter.
"But that didn't have to mean the end of us. Lots of other guys
in the Gulf got closer to their gals during the mission. Not us,
though. Umm, umm, umm. Certainly not us. How is Cesar, anyway?"
Jonah asked with a sudden edge.
"I don't know, and I don't care." She crossed her arms and turned
"Oh, so that's how it is? That how you've been thinking about me
all these years, too? Woo, I knew you were a tough one. But, man,
She stared at him, horrified. "I really hope you're joking,
"Why would I be?" He looked perplexed.
"You mean, you don't know?"
"Know what?" The fire popped and sparked. "I know you dumped me
for Cesar when I was out there alone in the desert, with nothing
but my rifle and sand dust to console me."
She blinked; tears splashed her cheeks. "You really don't know,"
she commented, dazed, unconsciously rising from the couch to
"What, Celondra? What don't I know?" he asked angrily. "Why don't
you enlighten me? You think I don't know that a boyfriend in hand
is better than a boyfriend in the Gulf? You think I don't know
how it is hard to wait, with so many temptations around, when
you're young and beautiful? You think these are revelations for
me? Guess again. I read it all in your Dear John letter,
and in the Dear John letters some of my buddies got when
we were out there in the godforsaken desert. These are not news
Celondra stopped directly in front of Jonah and gazed down into
his anguished face. She gripped her hips and said, "No, Jonah,
this is what you don't know: You don't know how much I regret
everything I did back then. You don't know how much I wish I
could have been who you needed me to be. How now I realize that I
was nothing but a stupid, selfish overgrown girl who had no idea
what war was, and what it must have been like to be a soldier
over there. How for years now I've known that I was nothing but a
college-educated idiot who couldn't even separate the man I loved
from the war I hated. What you don't know is how many nights I
prayed that I could have taken it all back and started over
again. And how I still love you, and how I've spent the last few
years of my life doing little more than pining for you, drinking
too much wine, waiting by the phone, praying, and hoping for
another chance." She gasped and gripped her mouth.
He rose slowly and enveloped her in his arms, stroking her hair.
"Alright, baby, alright. Now you've told me. Now I know," he
soothed. He held her for a long while and kissed her forehead.
Then, eventually, when new tears stopped spouting, he released
her and quietly removed his keys from his pocket.
"Where are you going?" she asked, wet and vulnerable.
"Oh, I'm just gonna head on home and let it all settle in. To be
honest, I half-expected us to fall into bed for old times' sake,
but I never expected this. It's ... it's just a lot to absorb."
He took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead.
"Well ... well, uh, do you know how to reach me?" she stuttered,
trying to quell her dizzying panic.
He recited her unchanged phone number from memory.
They shared a quiet smile, and then he was gone.
Two days went by, and then two weeks, and then two months. Jonah
Dear Lance Corporal Jopey,
Happy Holidays. I hope you aren't feeling too lonely out there in
the desert. Even if you are, I hope you know that at least one
person back here is thinking about you and sending good thoughts
your way. I'm sorry you have to spend the holiday season out
there in the desert, and I hope you know that there are people
back home who really appreciate the sacrifices you are making for
by Melissa Z. Savlov
... who is a freelance writer, lecturer, and painter, who has
traveled extensively. She has written three novels (The
Piper, Unbecoming Justine, and Foreign
Exchange) and two novellas (Boardwalk Blues and
Transcontinental). Her compositions have been published in
Foliate Oak, FACCCTS Journal,
Happy, The Wall, Gotta
Write Magazine, Cafe 80's, Mind
in Motion, Chinquapin Journal of Literature and
Arts, and Eidos. Sensual
Strivings, a Winter 2006 chapbook featuring her poetry and
cover art, is available at open bookstores in the Long Beach
area. At Saddleback College's Annual Writing Contest, her 2001
story, "Mint Julep Craving", won Second Place; and her 2000 poem,
"American Woman", received Honorable Mention.